According to Wikipedia.com, "Mel Gibson later regretted that his portrayal of Tom Garvey was so stubborn, that the audience lost sympathy, and said that he had been miscast for the role, because he was too young and 'pretty' at the time".
Part of a mini-cycle of farming movies that all debuted in 1984. The films include Country (1984), The River (1984), and Places in the Heart (1984). All three pictures were nominated that year for the Best Actress Academy Award, with Sally Field winning the Oscar in that category for the latter, beating out Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek from the first two films respectively.
Mark Rydell has said of this film: "The River (1984) is a tribute to a vanishing America - - the America of the independent farm family. The Garvey family represents the lifestyle that made America work: continuity of generations, the passing on of traditions, and of knowledge and skills, from fathers to sons, from mothers to daughters - a way of life in which every member of the family is unique and necessary for the survival of all."
The casting of Mel Gibson, according to Wikipedia, went as follows: "Mel Gibson begged (Mark) Rydell to let him play the Tennessee farmer, who reminded him of his (own) father, but the director was reluctant, because of Gibson's Australian accent. Before Gibson left for England to film The Bounty (1984), he begged Rydell not to cast the part yet. Rydell recalled, "He came back to my house in Los Angeles, and started reading the script, talking, reading the newspaper, in this perfect Tennessee accent. I was really impressed, even when he stood next to Sissy, who's like a tuning fork when it comes to accents, he had damn well done it."
Filmed in Gate City, Virginia, and Hawkins County (Church Hill, Surgoinsville, and Rogersville), Tennessee. Much of the movie was filmed on 440 acres of the Hawkins County land, purchased by Universal Studios by the Holston River in Tennessee. It was cleared, and turned into working farms in four weeks. The production used a real river, regulated for flood scenes, with a dam that was slated for repair. The dam was fixed, and altered, with the help of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The movie was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Actress, Best Sound, Best Music Score, and Best Cinematography, with the movie winning a Special Achievement Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing.
Some posters for this movie featured a long blurb that read: "An epic love story of today. From Mark Rydell, the director of On Golden Pond (1981). Tom and Mae Garvey. The river runs through their land, their love, and their lives. It will bring them together. It will tear them apart. It's where they'll make their stand. Alone they will fail. Together they may find the strength to keep their way of life alive."
An aerial location reconnaissance scout was sent to survey the following U.S. states prior to production: Ohio, Illinois, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennyslvania, West Virginia, and South Carolina. The successful places where filming was selected, were Birmingham, Alabama, and East Tennessee.